Startups: The early employee

It’s been just over and year since CipherGraph was born. Ever since I started working in the industry, I have maintained that hiring is a challenge for any company (read my past post on this here). It is one of the major problems in a startup’s life. Over the past few months I have been trying to hire for my company. I have noticed a strong inclination among young people to join startups, but also a surprising number of people who do not quite get why they want to do it or what to expect.

Lack of exemplary precedents

Almost all trends stem from a singular or small set of events. There is a lack of success stories in India that inspire the startup story among young people. Not many people in India have seen inception of Google/Facebook, their steady rise from being a closed group conversation, to evolve into raging phenomenon. Granted, the movie “The Social Network” did a good deal to inspire people, but that was not a documentary about the company. As such, it left the spirit of startup untouched (lost in a brief “photo montage”, as Eric Ries has been known to quote). Getting back to the point, the experience of seeing an end to end success story unfold is missing.

Infosys did a great job of letting people know that employees can be successful (money mostly) in a company, but that story was never followed up with anything similar in nature. It’s easy to mistake it for a fluke (but wrong). I, for one, am very hopeful that companies like InMobi, iXiGO and FlipKart will set the tone of the repeatable-success revolution. These companies are generating the right buzz and inspiring the confidence needed to set the wheels in motion. We need to see the people around us pull off a Google, Facebook or Amazon. What was missing was the hunger to do bigger, better and audacious. I see it happening around me now, building up, waiting for the flash point.

The Mercenary Needs to Die

The IT boom in India has done a lot to transform this country (or at least a few select cities) beyond recognition. What started out as large scale “outsourcing”, empowering engineers across this nation, simultaneously gave birth to a mercenary culture among young people. Living in today was never more fashionable. But there isn’t enough headroom for the “coasting” generation. A lot of people will argue with me against it, but I don’t care, I have seen enough that if I am proven wrong I will not curse myself of being too quick to judge. To fuel the rocket-ship we are all building, the mercenary culture needs to die. Money is certainly important, but the feeling of building something, competing with the heavy-weight veterans to make a true mark is a whole different story.

Thankfully, things are quickly changing! I am happy that there is enough mass of people who understand that it is not a scalable model. Progress beyond the beaten path requires leadership, ambition and a lot of audacity. If the recent startup events I have been to are any indication, we are gearing up very steadily for our next boom (and I think this will be bigger, much bigger).

It’s just a matter of time where the first few precedents will set off an explosive chain reaction.

What Women Startups Want?

Gear up! You want a roller-coaster ride, bring your hunger. The last person anyone wants in a startup is the person who does not want to do his best. Mercenaries are always a bad bet, if they come only for money they will also leave for money. I often get criticized for reading too much into the covering letters or specifically asking for descriptive resumes. I know it’s time consuming, but it’s worth it to know who you will work with to build the rocket ship you are working on. More than anything else, a resume’s contents are often a good reflection of self-esteem.

Startup success and early-employee success are a package deal with almost 100% symmetry. One of the things that has fascinated me in the past few weeks is the story of Marissa Mayer. Not just because of her exceptional success, but because it highlighted how incredibly well assembled the early Google team was. It’s good to read how the almost all of the early employees were able to fulfil a long term promise and grow parallel with Google (read at Business Insider).

I have always been a fan of team sports (mostly football/soccer), because I have always thought that it enhances the journey and the experience. Not just of winning but also recovering after a loss. If it was all about superstars, I think Real Madrid would never lose a single game, but they do, often. A team must be able to accomplish a feat bigger than the sum of its parts. To thrive, a startup must assemble the best superstar “team” possible, not just assemble the best “superstars” it can. Teamwork requires putting yourself “after” the team to work collectively for bigger returns. No pain no gain, no risk no reward.

You can’t jump if you refuse to get both feet off the ground.

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Tele-commuters and VPN Remote Access

Given today’s fast and global life, being tied down to a location for certain task is often too much to ask for. You have smartphones that don’t require you to go home or office to check your email. Your Phone/MP3 player is in your pocket always at your disposal for music/video. You are carrying Kindles for reading books (and not just a few, all of them).

Your office at your fingertips

People now understand that it is counter-productive to always be in needed in office for every little work related thing. Technology is allowing you to govern your time the way you want. Never before has the problem of physical presence in office been more constraining than now when you are often deal with people in different time zones. People often take conference calls from home at night, taking down notes of little things to do next day. Now you can take your office (not just the phone) to your home and be fully functional. Your documents, your office network should be there when you need them.

Gone are the days when it was acceptable to hear, “I am not in office at this time, I’ll send you that important document tomorrow”. Companies need to be nimble all the time. Telecommuting via VPNs, is here to stay. It is not just the ability to work from outside the office, it puts your entire office at your fingertips. Companies are fast recognizing the importance and benefits of enhanced productivity of remote workers (full time or part time). Some analysts even say that remote workers can often be up to 40% more productive, it is a surprisingly large number, something your company should not ignore.

Ubiquitous Productivity

I have read many articles (like IT Business’s Telecommuting benefits both employees and employers) that give a glimpse into how telecommuting is increasing productivity. It is seen as a perk for some offices, but in others it is indispensable, especially those that have a lot of workers on the road or working from other locations.

VPNs allow fully functional remote connectivity to your office. Some good solutions (like CipherGraph :-) allow access on mobile phones and tablets too. This is incredible flexibility and power that you just handed to your employee. Little things like generating a report or creating an invoice can be done from anywhere, even the client’s office. Speed is critical to all business, loss of time is loss of money. If your office does not provide a solution for remote connectivity, you are lacking the pace that your competition can (and will) take advantage of. Everyone knows the price of moving slower than the competition, “going out of business”.

Morale, Flexibility and Employee Retention

Importance of morale is another critical thing that any seasoned professional will be able to tell you about. Little perks that benefit both the company and the employees equally, go a long way. Telecommuting (even few days) makes your workplace seem that much more flexible and trusting of their employees. Good workers recognize and appreciate that. When I was working at my previous company, I used to work one or two days from home in a week. That saved me a total of four hours of commute time weekly (in horrible traffic) and on those days I had a jump-start because I was fresh when I start work. I was more productive in general and not just on the days I was not in office. Not to mention that I got more hours of my life into useful work than looking at tail lights in a traffic-jam. There is no simpler way to add more hours in a work day.

Incredible flexibility and Savings on External Contractors/Consultants/Others

Remote workers are not the only things that VPNs can enable. In my company I often hire external consultants to do some part-time work. Sometime they are not from the same city, but this never prevented me from hiring them. I would just give them access on my VPN (access limited to the parts of my network that they would need to access), when the contract is over, I can just suspend their login. This means that I can hire based on talent alone, their location is immaterial. I also saved a bunch of money since I no longer have to pay temporary relocation for them.

There are other cases where you might want to use a VPN, every once in a while there are people you have to work with but you cannot accommodate them in your office (or don’t want to) because of some reason (possibly office capacity). This may be some audit team or customers or some other people who may need access to limited portions of your company resources. VPNs are pretty much designed for this scenario. Some companies have to hire financial auditors who need access to company’s payroll portal and leave management portal, they often work in teams and are working on sensitive financial data that is meant for executive/board staff only. You do not want your meeting rooms blocked for days (non-stop) and certainly do not want them discussing company financials among your employees.

Efficient Office Space Use and Savings

I myself operate from a much smaller space than I would need, to if all my employees had to come to office every day. Earlier, all my employees were working from home and I operated out of a virtual office (paying just $80 as office rent per month). In both cases I saved thousands of dollars by using a VPN. It is not just the seating space; I am talking about all the resources I save (including energy, cooling etc.). A good article that explains this is Plantronics smartens up its headquarters for remote workers

VPNs are loved by everyone

The best part of being in my business: We are not an additional liability / process, we are 360 degree facilitators. We make work easy, enhance productivity of companies and no one feels burdened, not the employees or the IT or the corporate executives. In fact, they all appreciate the freedom, peace of mind and savings (and not just in the same respective order :-)

Related Articles:

Telecommuting benefits both employees and employers: http://blogs.itbusiness.ca/2011/01/telecommuting-benefits-both-employees-and-employers/

Telecommuter-Friendly Office Leads to Happier Workforce: http://www.mobiledia.com/news/120383.html

Remote Workers: http://blog.delawareinc.com/2011/11/hiring-remote-workers/

Plantronics smartens up its headquarters for remote workers: http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/design-architecture/plantronics-smartens-up-its-headquarters-for-remote-workers/2755